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Statins could help control MS

19 March 2014

Research published in the Lancet, led by Dr Jeremy Chataway (Honorary Senior Lecturer, UCL Institute of Neurology and Consultant Neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery), has found that a high dose of the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin reduces the rate of brain shrinkage in people with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) by about 40% (the untreated rate is approximately 0.6% a year).

Dr Jeremy Chataway

The research, funded by the Biomedical Research Centre at UCL and UCLH, is an exciting breakthrough, as up until now successful clinical trials have mainly focused on treatments for the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS).

The researchers carried out a phase II proof of concept study to see the effect of high dosage on brain atrophy (measured by MRI) in SPMS.

We found the drugs were well tolerated, and that they reduced the rate of shrinkage by about 40%, which is really quite dramatic. There was also hints of an effect on disability, but as the trial was not powered with this in mind, this finding can only be described as exploratory. Although there was no immunological effects, simvastatin may have a vascular-protective role, and crucially perhaps, a neuroprotective role – as shown by reducing the rate of brain shrinkage.

Dr Jeremy Chataway, Lead Author

The study provides an exciting platform that needs to be taken into a late phase III trial to see if the drug has a sustained effect on disability over a three-year period.

“This is one of the first positive clinical trials for patients with secondary progressive MS and while a Phase III trial will be essential to confirm the results, it is a major contribution to the recent international initiative on progressive MS and complements the many other innovative studies being carried out by the MS team in central and east London under the auspices of MS@UCLP."

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences

This clinical trial is the culmination of long-standing research led by Professor John Greenwood at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, who said: “After nearly two decades of research, it is immensely gratifying to see this work progress into the clinic to deliver benefits to patients.”

Further information: 

UCL press release

Chataway, J. et al. Effect of high-dose simvastatin on brain atrophy and disability in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS-STAT): a randomised, placebo-controlled, phase 2 trial. The Lancet, Available online 19 March 2014. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62242-4

Image: Dr Jeremy Chataway (credit: Multiple Sclerosis Society)

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